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09 May

What you see is what you get

This, too, is a feature of Irish thought. A nervousness of abstraction underlies the conservative politics of Berkeley, Swift and Burke, leading them to belabour impious rationalists and idle utopianists. It is not surprising that Burke, with his passion for the particular, should have produced one of the first great works of aesthetics in these islands. It fitted well with his hatred of revolutionary rationalism across the Channel. It may seem odd to say that Berkeley was wary of abstractions when he produced such a wildly speculative doctrine as esse est percipi, but the truth is that he thought it no more than common sense. It was, he thought, what the man in the street believed too. The common people were not metaphysically inclined, and so did not subscribe to the notion that there was some mysterious ‘substance’ that supposedly underlay our sensory impressions of things. For them as for Berkeley himself, what you see is what you get.

From “What you see is what you get” in the LRB, Terry Eagleton’s review of “The Correspondence of George Berkeley”, edited by Marc Hight (subscription required).

The piece is 90% Eagleton on Irish thought, and 10% the volume being reviewed, but none the worse for that.

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